The Hon Roubina Jadoo-Jaunbocus, Minister of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare
Ms Anushka Virahsawmy, Country Manager and Gender Links Regional Training Manager
The President and members of Les Chefs du Coeur
Ladies and gentlemen
I would like to wish you all a very warm welcome this evening and sincerely thank you for your support to the Australian High Commission and Les Chefs du Coeur’s inaugural White Ribbon Charity Dinner.
I would also like to extend a special welcome to the newly appointed Minister of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare, the Hon Roubina Jadoo-Jaunbocus. Your presence here tonight reflects your government’s commitment to addressing gender based violence. We also recognize that in your elevation to this role, it has also resulted in the appointment of your predecessor as Mauritius’ first female Vice Prime Minister.
Ladies and gentlemen, our aim tonight is twofold.
Firstly, to enjoy each other’s company as we sample wonderful Australian, Mauritian and international food and wine, view fashion creations from Australian and Mauritian designers, and enjoy performances by award winning artists – all who have donated their time and resources to tonight’s event.
Secondly, it is to show our support to end violence against women in the name of the White Ribbon cause.
Your attendance tonight is the first step in a shared action agenda, and will raise important funds for the NGO GenderLinks and their Safe Haven Halfway Home for young women who are victims of abuse, which was opened earlier this year. This is the first Halfway Home to be opened in Mauritius and is really offering these young women a supportive environment and second chance. Your financial support will ensure the provision of basic necessities, social support services, and building of life skills to empower them to start afresh.
Often it takes a tragedy to seek a remedy. Such was the genesis of the White Ribbon initiative.
In 1989, on 6 December, a student at the University of Montreal massacred 14 of his fellow female students. His actions traumatised a nation and brought the issue of violence against women to the forefront of collective consciousness. In response, a group of men in Toronto decided to speak out and work to stop men’s violence against women. In 1991 they initiated a male-led movement known as White Ribbon, with an annual awareness raising event – White Ribbon Day is now held between 25 November and 6 December and the initiative has become an international effort in over 57 countries of men and boys working to end violence against women.
Tonight here in Mauritius we are playing our part, recognising elimination of violence against women is one of the Sustainable Development Goals  and seeks to target all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking, and sexual and other forms of exploitation.
Violence against women is unacceptable, anywhere, anytime and it is to our collective shame that no country is free from it. Certainly, not Australia.
- On average, in Australia, at least one women a week is killed by a partner or former partner;
- One in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15;
- One in five Australian women has experienced sexual violence; and
- One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
Globally, more than one in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in some other way, most often by someone she knows.
Like the White Ribbon initiative, it was a tragedy that forced Australians to think more deeply, and prioritise action to prevent family violence. An Australian woman, Rosie Batty, who was herself a victim of abuse, lost her son at the hands of his father in a devastating and public manner. She was named Australian of the Year in 2015 for her tireless efforts to raise awareness in the wake of her son’s murder and has remained a leading advocate for measures to prevent domestic violence.
And what we know is that gender inequality is the root cause of violence against women.
We all have lessons to learn. And improvements are needed to ensure better gender equality, but we can't just pour in women and stir: the reality is that if we do not actively and intentionally include women, the system will unintentionally exclude them.
Australia’s innovative Male Champions of Change program was founded in 2010 by the former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, together with a group of senior Australian businessmen committed to increasing women’s representation in leadership positions. The program was born from Ms Broderick’s conviction that women could not achieve gender equality by acting alone, but also had to engage men in leadership positions to, in turn, empower women. The Male Champions for Change in Australia believe gender equality is one of the nation’s most significant societal and economic issues.
The program has grown steadily since its inception, finding a receptive audience amongst male leaders in the private and public sectors. Male champions commit themselves and the organisations they lead to practical action – including reducing the prevalence and impact of domestic and family violence in recognition of the fact it is also a workplace issue.
Ending violence against women is a priority for Australia both domestically and in our international development efforts.
Domestically, Australia has made women’s safety a national priority. We have developed a National Plan to reduce violence against women and their children. A number of initiatives have been developed to engage men in prevention of violence against women. These include “The Line campaign” which provides resources particularly for adolescents around safe sexual behaviours, highlighting different forms of violence and attitudes that lead to violence; and the “Stop it at the Start” campaign which challenges beliefs around male and female relationships and supports parents, family members, teachers, community leaders and other influences to speak up and challenge disrespectful attitudes towards women and girls.
Australian universities are playing their part and have launched the “Respect Now Always” initiative to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The Australian High Commission and the Ministry of Gender have built a strong partnership over the years on addressing the issue of gender based violence and promoting gender equity and women’s economic empowerment.
Through the Australian Government’s Australian Awards scholarship program, the High Commission’s small grants community development program, and visits by Australian specialists (including Australia’s own Ambassador for Women and Girls), we have been sharing our experiences, providing support and capacity building to Government officials, community groups, legal practitioners, front line police officers, and business groups.
We have done this in partnership with Mauritius but also as a key priority within the region, particularly the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
At the level of my own department, we have developed our own Women in Leadership (WIL) strategy which won the Australian Public Service Gender Equality Award for 2017. As an organization, we are committed to ensuring all staff – women and men – feel valued and supported to perform at their best. The implementation of the strategy has driven deep cultural change in the department which helps staff reach their full potential and enhance productivity. There are now many active male and female women in leadership advocates across the department.
I note that Mauritius has been equally active in addressing the issue of gender based violence and that the Ministry of Gender will be organising a number of activities to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
So tonight, let’s remember to “Stand Up, Speak Out and Act to prevent violence against women”. And all work to be the Champions for Change.
Thank you once again for your support and may you enjoy the evening.
23 November 2017